Hurriyat Conference (M) chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at a protest rally against the issuing of domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees (WPR) in Srinagar.(HT File Photo)
Hurriyat Conference (M) chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at a protest rally against the issuing of domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees (WPR) in Srinagar.(HT File Photo)

Jammu & Kashmir: West Pakistan refugees seek scrapping of Article 35A

Three members of the community has now moved the Supreme Court seeking abrogation of the contentious constitutional provision.
By Ravi Krishnan Khajuria | Hindustan Times, Jammu
UPDATED ON SEP 07, 2017 02:08 PM IST

A group of West Pakistan refugees (WPRs) from Jammu and Kashmir has moved the Supreme Court against continuation of a constitutional provision that grants exclusive state subject rights and other privileges to “permanent residents” of the state, stating it deprived them of their fundamental rights.

Nearly 1.25 lakh WPRs, who migrated from the then West Pakistan after partition of the country in 1947 to settle in Kathua, Samba and Jammu districts of the state, are seeking citizenship rights, employment rights and right to vote and contest the state assembly polls for the past 70 years.

Three members of the community Kali Dass, Sanjay Kumar and Balwant Singh in their petition said the constitutional provision was grossly discriminatory towards the WPRs, adding a new dimension to the ongoing legal battle over the Article 35A, which has become an emotive issue in the state.

A little known non-governmental organisation filed a petition in the top court in 2014 challenging the constitutional validity of the article. While the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other Kashmir-centric political parties stiffly oppose any tinkering with the provision, the BJP, a constituent of the state’s ruling alliance is in favour of the abrogation.

The SC will hear the petitions after Diwali that falls on mid October.

According to official data 5,764 families comprising 47,915 persons had migrated from West Pakistan in 1947 and settled in the three districts of the state. Today their population increased to nearly 1.25 lakh.

These refugees are not considered permanent residents of the state, cannot vote in assembly polls and cannot do state government jobs even though they are living in the state for generations. However, they can vote in parliamentary elections.

“Even after 70 years of independence our children cannot apply for the state government jobs. While Dr Manmohan Singh and IK Gujral, who also migrated from Pakistan, rose to the position of PMs, we are still considered children of the lesser god,” said Balram Kumar, a WPR lodged at Lalyalpur camp in Akhnoor.

Many others even blame their parents and grand-parents for settling down in Jammu after fleeing Pakistan in the wake of communal riots during Partition.

“Had my grand-parents chose Punjab or any other state after partition, we would have surely been better off,” said Kumar.

No takers for domicile certificates

They do not even see any hope in the PDP-BJP government’s announcement in December last year to issue them domicile certificates because it won’t make them permanent residents of the state.

The announcement had sparked a violent protest in Jammu and Kashmir, prompting the state government to clarify that it would not change the status of the refugees.

Union minister of state (MoS) for home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir during a recent visit to Jammu had observed that “hardships of these hapless people need a relook and that they be issued identity certificates for jobs at least in central police, paramilitary and armed forces.”

Labha Ram Gandhi, chairman of the West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee 1947, said: “Our four generations have been ruined. Kashmiri rulers are responsible for our plight and the Article 35A is grossly discriminatory towards the people of Jammu.”

He claimed that their plight was further aggravated after the National Conference- Congress coalition government during its 2008-14 term scrapped issuing Dogra certificate to their youth seeking employment with central forces.

Gandhi further pointed out that while the criterion for getting jobs in central forces for youth from rest of the state is 8th pass, it’s 10th pass with 45 percent marks for the youth of Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.

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